Sharing Soil Health Knowledge and Practice through Grazing Networks

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2015: $74,363.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: GrassWorks, Inc.
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Jill Hapner
GrassWorks, Inc.

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial)
  • Additional Plants: native plants
  • Animals: bovine, goats, poultry, rabbits, sheep, swine
  • Animal Products: dairy, eggs, meat


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, feed management, free-range, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture renovation, pasture fertility, range improvement, rangeland/pasture management
  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat, silvopasture
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Energy: energy use
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, value added, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, grass waterways, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers, riverbank protection, soil stabilization, wetlands, wildlife
  • Pest Management: weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This project works at statewide and local levels to bring together local learning teams of agency staff, grazing network coordinators, and livestock farmers for mutual education on managing cropland and pastures for improved soil health. GrassWorks is a statewide farmer organization that has established a soil health education program. This project will extend that program and deliver educational content to agency staff through Wisconsin’s five Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&D) that sponsor grazing networks. It provides support for those networks to engage local NRCS, Land Conservation (LCD), and Extension staff over two years in a co-learning project on pasture soil health. This project will tap into NRCS and LCD soil science expertise, building on NRCS’s current soil health initiative. Extension adult education expertise and network coordinator grazing expertise will also contribute to this locally-based, mutual professional development effort. Outcomes include: 1) engaging local agency staff in delivering pasture soil health education through grazing network activities, 2) recruiting local agency staff to support ongoing grazing network activities, 3) providing statewide coordination of the project to establish a stronger, durable relationship between GrassWorks and local grazing networks. Activities will include training of network coordinators and agency staff on pasture soil health, collaboration among local staff on at least two pasture walks or workshops on soil health in each of the five RC&D areas, and creation of a grazing network coordinator toolkit. This project will foster collaboration among local participants through mutual learning on the soil health benefits of well-managed pasture.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will raise awareness of the soil health benefits of well-managed pastures among local agency staff and grazing network coordinators, resulting in increased awareness among the livestock farmers they serve. Intermediate outcomes include increased knowledge among local agency staff of the role of pasture and perennial grassland cover in improving soil health and how to manage grazing to maximize these benefits through an understanding of advanced pasture management practices. Ultimately, this effort should result in increased acreage of well-managed pasture delivering positive soil health outcomes.




    Bringing together state-level specialists from several agencies with others knowledgeable in grazing management and soil health to develop the curriculum will result in an integration and shared understanding of these topics that will provide a clear, consistent message across agencies when pasture soil health information is shared with producers. This outcome will have long-lasting results beyond the life of the grant project.




    Delivering the soil health information through a grazing network structure will create experiential learning opportunities among grant-funded grazing network coordinators and local agency staff. One of the most effective learning techniques is teaching the material to others. Having network coordinators and agency staff conduct workshops and pasture walks on the topic will provide this hands-on-training opportunity, as well as create learning opportunities for local farmers. The behavior changes we envision include increased confidence among local agency staff in assisting farmers with conversion to pasture based systems and improvement of pasture management skills.




    A second goal of this project is to strengthen local capacity to maintain high quality grazing education by engaging local agency staff in grazing networks. An intermediate outcome will be increased awareness among local agency staff of the value of grazing networks as a means of engaging with clientele and delivering technical assistance, cost-sharing, and other services. In the long-term, our goal is commitment by local agency offices to support farmer-led grazing network educational activities.




    Our three target agencies (Extension, NRCS, and Land Conservation) have different objectives and areas of expertise, but all three need positive engagement with their local farming community to deliver their products. While group education is the primarily purview of Extension, such gatherings of farmers are key to soliciting clients for the individualized technical assistance that NRCS and Land Conservation provide. In many counties, partnerships among these agencies already exist. This project is intended to encourage collaboration among agencies in support of grazing networks. Our research has shown that these farmer-led networks thrive with relatively modest agency investments to support coordination and communication (Paine et al. 2000). Our goal is to demonstrate through local multi-agency partnerships, the value of grazing networks as a vehicle for delivering soil health information and achieving agency conservation goals. Behavior changes include engagement with and support of local grazing networks.




    Thirdly, we seek to strengthen the relationship between GrassWorks and local grazing networks to build an effective statewide network to provide grazing education. This will result in a strong, resilient, statewide grazing education network involving trained local agency staff that can assist livestock producers through both group education and individual technical assistance, and in the long-term, a robust, effective network of local and state grazing educators and technical assistance providers coordinated cooperatively by GrassWorks and state and local agencies. When funding was more plentiful, local networks and Wisconsin’s statewide grazing organization, GrassWorks, were able to operate relatively independently. Now, with tighter budgets, this project will help build a strong working partnership between GrassWorks and the local networks, allowing mutually supportive activities that will maintain grazing education across the state.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.